Acer Aspire One L150 mini-review

Acer Aspire One L150

A few months ago we were given a couple of old laptops by some relatives. I cleaned both of them up, gave one a fresh install of XP Home and the other Ubuntu. The former has now become the family PC and the latter is sitting on top of some draws in my room unused because the power supply connector is nearly unusable.

Being the lazy person I am, wanting to be able to watch TV and surf from the comfort of my bed, I decided I needed a laptop that actually works. When someone on the UKHA mailing list pointed to an offer on Amazon for an Acer Aspire One L150 (white) for 199, I decided I had to go for it. I wasn’t too keen on the white netbook though, so I paid a little more for a lovely blue number.

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The audio system that I’m building requires 2 low-power computers: 1 for the touchscreen controller (not using an iPod Touch for the moment) and 1 to act as a webserver and serial-console server.

Once again eBay has come to the rescue, and by searching for ‘geode’ – a low-power processor for Thin Clients & Small Form Factor (SFF) PCs – I found the 2 machines that I needed. These are the specs:

magnesium (the black one)

  • 800 MHz Geode
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 6 GB CF drive
  • Onboard graphics, audio, serial, parallel, USB & 10/100 ethernet

70 + P&P

potassium (the grey one)

  • 300 MHz Geode
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 6 GB 2.5″ IDE drive
  • Onboard graphics, audio, serial x2, parallel, USB & 10/100 ethernet

35 + P&P

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Serial port problem solved

Thanks to the chip manufacturer of the cheap serial port card, I’ve managed to get some extra serial ports working. If you can’t figure out how to get additional serial ports working, I recommend this guide [ZIP, 792KB] available from the Moschip driver download page. It should be valid for most models of serial cards, and explains how to add more than the standard 4 ports that most linux installs have.

Now that this problem is out of the way I can continue with writing the remote control software for the audio system.

Serial port problem part-way resolved

Having put the 4 port serial card back into boron, the onboard port now works again, so I’ll probably continue with developing the software. The expansion card still doesn’t work though, so I’ve ordered a cheap 2-port card from eBay in the hope that a different card will work.

Before reinstalling the card I upgraded Ubuntu to see if that would help (it didn’t) which brought its own scary moment of the 1TB RAID volume being dead. That too is solved now – the drive letter assignments had changed.

Getting NUT working with a Compaq T2400h


Several months ago I posted some information on the cable to connect a Compaq T2400h to a standard serial port. This weekend I finally got around to trying out the information that I found. I now have the 2.4KVA UPS at the bottom of my rack cabinet talking to my Ubuntu-based fileserver, boron.

The first step was to create the cable. This requires a 9 pin female ‘D’ connector and a matching male connector. For the cable I used an offcut of CAT5, though normally serial cables do not use twisted pair (usually just parallel wires).





The software part is done using NUT, for which there is a package included in the Ubuntu distribution. This software talks to the UPS, monitors it’s status and allows other computers to check the status. The monitoring applications are then responsible for shutting down the computers attached to the UPS should power fail and the battery become critical. So far this is just boron and my Windows machine, aluminium. The latter uses WinNUT to shut down Windows when needed.

There were a few problems getting NUT to work with Ubuntu. First off, the package doesnt put any configuration files in the /etc/nut path, so I had to go hunt for the examples and copy then modify them. The next problem was with permissions for the serial port. For testing purposes I tried running the protocol module as root, but this introduced different permissions problems. The solution was to add the ‘nut’ user to the ‘dialout’ group, which is one group that has access to the serial ports. To my relief this got everything working.

These are the parameters that I can access over the serial connection:

simon@boron:~$ upsc compaq@boron
battery.charge: 97.22
battery.runtime: 1620.000
battery.voltage: 0055.50
battery.voltage.nominal: 0048.00 upscode2
driver.parameter.input_timeout: 5
driver.parameter.manufacturer: Compaq
driver.parameter.port: /dev/ttyS0
driver.parameter.use_pre_lf: yes
driver.version: 2.0.5
driver.version.internal: 0.84
input.voltage: 0244.50
input.voltage.maximum: 0276.00
input.voltage.minimim: 0162.00
input.voltage.nominal: 0230.00
output.current: 0001.95
output.frequency: 0050.00
output.voltage: 0215.10
ups.delay.reboot: 000
ups.delay.shutdown: 000
ups.load: 21.875
ups.mfr: Compaq
ups.model: UPS 2400 VA FW -0023
ups.power.nominal: 2300.000
ups.serial: E########
ups.status: OL TRIM

These are the resources that I used to get the UPS/NUT combo working:

Ubuntu as a media centre PC

A little over two weeks ago I ordered a new computer from EfficientPC. They appear to be the only independent business selling true linux-based machines. Anyway, what I was after was a box that could run MythTV reliably but quietly (since it will be in the living room).

At our previous house I tried to set up Boron as the machine for this job, since we had the space under the TV (though I had to take a jigsaw to the back of the cabinet) and it was the only suitable machine for the job at the time. Our huge and heavy CRT (now retired to the master bedroom) has component input, so I tried several DVI to component converters that supposedly worked on the Radeon 9600 that sits inside Boron. As these things always go, it didn’t work. So now that we have a TFT TV with VGA input, I have another chance to get a fully-functional media server set up.

This new machine is pretty much silent – certainly quiet enough to sit in the living room, behind the TV (it’s also very slim). I’ve also discovered that it’s pretty nippy, sporting an Intel Core 2 Duo E2140 with just 512MB of DDR2 (since there doesnt need to be a huge amount of RAM for a media centre – processing power is more important). The 500 GB drive should give a few hundred hours of recording capacity. It has been called Sodium, because I try to go for things that are orangey with the Ubunto machines – sodium lamps shine orange – and it will be the ‘Master Backend’ server for MythTV. Boron will be a slave server, and there will be various front-ends around the house.

I found out after ordering this new Asus Camulus-based computer that EfficientPC is run by a single person, so service is not speedy. He is apparently struggling to keep up with demand, so emails often go unanswered. I am not bothered by this, and the quality of the product is pretty good. This guy makes sure that the hardware that he provides works with Ubuntu, which provides more peace-of-mind than if I would have ordered the parts myself then found out that they don’t work under linux.

The only problem, other than breaking a PSU, is that the PCI DVB-T tuner cards that I have will not fit inside the Isis case. I’ve ordered a Nova-T 500 dual tuner card to compensate (along side the replacement PSU and another 500 GB drive). The beauty of MythTV is that it will allow me to use all of the cards in separate machines, combined into one set of recordings that can be watched through any of the MythTV front-ends in the house. So that’s 4 tuners allowing 4 shows to be recorded simultaneously. Eventually this may be expanded to include satellite tuners because we have a very weak digital signal around here. More on the specifics of MythTV and how it’s being set up in our house soon.

There will be photos shortly, once I’ve got the system fully set up.